As you might know, due to invasive changes in PackageKit, I am currently rewriting the 3rd-party application installer Listaller. Since I am not the only one looking at the 3rd-party app-installation issue (there is a larger effort going on at GNOME, based on Lennarts ideas), it makes sense to redesign some concepts of Listaller.
Currently, dependencies and applications are installed into directories in /opt, and Listaller contains some logic to make applications find dependencies, and to talk to the package manager to install missing things. This has some drawbacks, like the need to install an application before using it, the need for applications to be relocatable, and application-installations being non-atomic.
There is/was another 3rd-party app installer approach on the GNOME side, by Alexander Larsson, called Glick2. Glick uses application bundles (do you remember Klik from back in the days?) mounted via FUSE. This allows some neat features, like atomic installations and software upgrades, no need for relocatable apps and no need to install the application.
However, it also has disadvantages. Quoting the introduction document for Glick2:
“Bundling isn’t perfect, there are some well known disadvantages. Increased disk footprint is one, although current storage space size makes this not such a big issues. Another problem is with security (or bugfix) updates in bundled libraries. With bundled libraries its much harder to upgrade a single library, as you need to find and upgrade each app that uses it. Better tooling and upgrader support can lessen the impact of this, but not completely eliminate it.”
This is what Listaller does better, since it was designed to do a large effort to avoid duplication of code.
Also, currently Glick doesn’t have support for updates and software-repositories, which Listaller had.
Combining Listaller and Glick ideas
So, why not combine the ideas of Listaller and Glick? In order to have Glick share resources, the system needs to know which shared resources are available. This is not possible if there is one huge Glick bundle containing all of the application’s dependencies. So I modularized Glick bundles to contain just one software component, which is e.g. GTK+ or Qt, GStreamer or could even be a larger framework (e.g. “GNOME 3.14 Platform”). These components are identified using AppStream XML metadata, which allows them to be installed from the distributor’s software repositories as well, if that is wanted.
If you now want to deploy your application, you first create a Glick bundle for it. Then, in a second step, you bundle your application bundle with it’s dependencies in one larger tarball, which can also be GPG signed and can contain additional metadata.
The resulting “metabundle” will look like this:
This doesn’t look like we share resources yet, right? The dependencies are still bundled with the application requiring them. The trick lies in the “installation” step: While the application above can be executed right away without installing it, there will also be an option to install it. For the user …